Friday, February 18, 2011

Concise Thoughts on Connectivism

We were asked to submit a short paper as our first assignment whereby we state our position on connectivism as a theory (or not) and discuss its strengths and weaknesses. The following is what I submitted after reworking it multiple times in order to stay within the 750-word limit. I found it a good exercise in being concise without losing the essence; it reminded me of my initial challenge in using Twitter. Anyway, here it goes:

Connectivism is well on its way to becoming its own theory. The concept of learning via networks and through participation have been around for a long time, but with the emergence and evolution of technology, there has been a shift from the traditional methods of creating networks of learning from face-to-face gatherings to one that allows us to share knowledge with each other in abundance, and in more complex ways (Siemens, 2008). In other words, we have been in need of a theory that speaks to the environment we live in today, where “student control and freedom is integral to 21st century life-long education and learning” (Anderson, 2011).

Connectivism has been building over time and its foundation lies in several generations of learning theories. There has been a shift from focus on the individual’s more passive and directed learning behaviourism/cognitivism), to a focus on groups where new knowledge builds on previous experience (constructivism) (Anderson, 2011). However, since we can’t personally experience everything, we look to other people – our networks – as our source of knowledge (Stephenson). Piaget’s explanation that we develop mental maps (schemas) of the world which evolve, expand and get more complex over time, and the view that information cannot be handed to us but instead must be constructed (Clark) are the constructivist contributions to connectivism, which tie into this idea of externalizing our knowledge to make sense of it (Siemens, 2008). Essentially, in connectivism, the connection of our information sources as new nodes (people, data bases, resources) are added to the network where we can process them in a real-life, authentic context which is not always the case when learning in groups (Anderson, 2011). Instead, in connectivism, “what we know today is not as important as our ability to continue to stay current“(Siemens, 2007).

A learning theory should explain and predict, advance a discipline, and prepare for our future needs (Siemens, 2004). If this is accurate, then connectivism must be a theory: it provides an explanation for how learning occurs in the network (as opposed to just in individuals), it is relevant in today’s world of rapid information change, and it is helping professionals process the education of tomorrow.

Weaknesses and Strengths
These are the weaknesses I see in the characteristics of connectivism:

• the self-directed aspect can result in isolation, confusion, and frustration for those who aren’t so inclined (ie, what about those who are not self-starters? Are they left behind?)

• the challenge of applying of the self-organization and chaos concept within institutions where there are requirements and obligations

On the other hand, I see many strengths in the characteristics of connectivism:

• everything (the network and the knowledge) is at our fingertips; access with no borders

• individual needs are met because you can take what you want and reject the rest

• informal learning can take place through communities of practice (Siemens, 2004)

• exchange (externalizing) with others gives shape to what we know

• experience of learning takes place in the formation of networks and these connections create meaning

• allows for diversity of people and opinions; celebrates it

• technology takes over the information storage (know-where)

• removes the hierarchy from learning (teachers being learners and learners being teachers)

How Connectivisim Resonates with my Learning Experiences
“We have knowledge…only as we actively participate in its construction” (Elmore).

Connectivism resonates with my learning experience in that I Iearn by listening, processing and bouncing my ideas off others. When I make connections, I am able to create meaning for myself, and I see this occurring in this course.

Chaos takes the predictability out of the learning I remember from formal institutions, thereby bringing forth a key element: motivation. I remember the chemistry teacher being so predictable, I could use my sister’s notes from 2 years before! He had been there for 30 years and taught the same stagnant material over and over again, none of which I retained.

The starting point for connectivism is “me” and my ability to self-organize and make connections. It allows me to own my learning – learning that is constantly evolving, changing, transforming as I continually acquire more of it, and then, in return, give it back to the network.

Some Questions
I have some questions about the practical application of connectivism is as it relates to being an educator.

How do issues of personality factor into connectivism?

What are the roles of the different individuals in a networked learning environment, or is it laissez-faire?

• If there are specific roles, what if one of these roles is missing from the environment?

How does connectivism fit into Robertson’s 3 activity systems (organization, technology, pedagogy) of Activity Theory? (Robertson)

Is there a place for the instructor in connectivism and if so, what is it?

• Is it more of a facilitation role?

• What new skills do instructors need to have to be successful in this environment?

Anderson, Terry. (2011). Technological Challenges and Opportunities of Three Generations of Distance Education Pedagogies. Retrieved from

Clark, D. (1995). Constructivism. Retrieved from

Elmore, R. Education for Judgment: The Artistry of Discussion Leadership, xii. Retrieved from

Robertson, I. Introduction to Activity Theory. Retrieved from YouTube at

Siemens, G. (2004). Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age. Retrieved from

Siemens, G. (2007). The Network is the Learning, Retrieved from YouTube:

Siemens, G. (2008). What is Connectivism? Retrieved from

Stephenson, K. What Knowledge Tears Apart, Networks Make Whole. Retrieved from

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